I have this strange kink in that I can never do anything without reading a book about it first. I suffer from "get it right first time" syndrome and it isn't pretty.
Now the thing about gardening, is that there are as many gardening books as there are gardeners, if not more when you consider how many star gardeners there are on the market. And, for a newbie that's really quite bewildering.
The problem is also compounded by books never quite giving me exactly what I need to know. Container books talk about flowers. Vegetable books detail allotments and smallholdings. Organic books assume that you own Kent.
I live in a city, in an apartment and I want to grow vegetables and herbs. Oh, and I'm poor. Where's my book?
"Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening" by Elizabeth McCorquodale (Black Dog Publishing) comes pretty damn close to being the book I needed to read when I started on this farming malarkey.
With contributions from Guerrilla Gardening maven Richard Reynolds and a host of renowned gardeners and artists, you get a good, basic grounding in important principles in bite size, understandable chunks. Then you have a list of essential tools with asides on how to make some out of junk. Thumbs up from me on that point.
And, it gets better. You get projects - lots and lots of projects with lots and lots of pictures. For a newbie gardener this is the best part; buy some soil, score some seeds and then you can grab a can or an old plastic bottle and hey presto you're growing something. No smallholdings, no allotments, no massive cash outlay, no mess, no fuss.
Broken down into sections, you get:
- Getting Started
- Ideas for Edibles, Fruit and Veg
- Herbs & Flowers
- Wildlife & Practical Projects
- Curiosities & Other Things
Want bees in your garden? There's a project for that. Like to do some guerrilla gardening? They've covered that. Vegetables: check. Herbs: check. Fruit, fertiliser, bees, birds, pests, ladybugs, junk, organics, where to go, who to talk to, web addresses and more: all there.
I've noticed from the scads of books that I've begged, stolen and borrowed that there is a certain elitism to gardening and a tendency to talk down to anyone who doesn't innately understand Old Farmers' Almanac style folk wisdom or isn't intimately acquainted with the lore of the soil.
"Growing Stuff" doesn't patronise - it understands that us city folk need to be introduced to soil as an alien concept and that we need to be doing stuff in order to learn. I like that a lot. It also respects the notion that junk is there to be reused and recycled, and it totally gets the freebie movement giving recipes for turning roadside nettles into fertiliser, making growing pots out of toilet rolls, and championing Freecycle and Craigslist.
It even presents a project for planting jolly flowers in junk shop teacups and either leaving them on the pavement or depositing them on your neighbours' doormat with a label.
"If you find me, keep me. Have a lovely day x."
We need more random acts of kindness like that in the big grey city. More thumbs up from me.
Once you've read the beginning principles, you're well on your way to becoming a gardener. You don't have to read the book from start to finish; you can just jump in, choose a project that takes your fancy and get on with it. No horticultural charts.
I got so frustrated when I started out because I needed something that said to me that if I planted carrot seed on day one I would end up with a vegetable that I could eat at roughly X days later. Or that I could harvest them when they looked a certain way. "Growing Stuff" does that:
"Harvest (carrots) when you can see the carrot's orange 'shoulders' above the soil surface."
Now why couldn't the other books tell me that? How hard can it be?